Back-Seat Driver

Commuters have long waited for this road work to end. Why did crews rip out new asphalt?

Watch scenes from Sacramento County's biggest road construction project

The Hazel corridor is a mess, and will be until next spring. The biggest and longest running road construction project in Sacramento County – a $20 million reinvention of Hazel – is back in full uproar mode this summer.
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The Hazel corridor is a mess, and will be until next spring. The biggest and longest running road construction project in Sacramento County – a $20 million reinvention of Hazel – is back in full uproar mode this summer.

Lane Montgomery drives Hazel Avenue to work every day, and that makes him a charter member of the county's longest-running, construction-caused traffic jam.

For two years, he's tolerated commute delays as crews dug nearly mile-long trenches along the Hazel corridor, shifting traffic back and forth, often winnowing to one lane in each direction.

Now, though, he's just mad, and here's why. He saw crews last week ripping out some of the asphalt they had just poured for the new street.

How does this make sense, he wondered. Did they screw up?

He wasn't the only one who noticed. Marvin Blair, a collection attendant at the Goodwill outlet on Hazel, has been watching the project out his window and noticed it too.

"I couldn’t figure that out," he said. "They paved and took it out and now they are digging trenches. I cant figure that out."

Sacramento County's Hazel project manager Steve White said that wasn't the result of a mistake. The contractor on the project is preparing to put in the center median, he said. But before doing that, crews put down a first layer of asphalt a few weeks ago.

When doing that, they decided it would be easier to lay the asphalt down across the entire width, rather than leave an opening in the middle. That meant digging out the center strip of the new asphalt last week. The contractor also ripped up a section to put down about two blocks of new storm drain.

"It is the contractor's choice," White said. "It allowed them to stage the work more efficiently."

The contractor essentially just has to have the project done on budget. The move may not look logical, he said, but temporarily "paving the medians gave them the flexibility to flop traffic back and forth as they work."

The actual top road surface or top layer - to be made of rubberized asphalt for longer life - will be put down in May when weather allows, White said.

When will the project finally be done? It's a complicated question.

The Hazel project is massive - a 20-year, $20 million complete redo of one of the region's oldest and busiest commute corridors. Hazel is one of the few that crosses the American River, allowing people to get from Citrus Heights, Orangevale, Fair Oaks and other suburban communities to Highway 50.

When finished, Hazel will be a modern thoroughfare from the Sacramento-Placer county line to Highway 50 , often six lanes wide, with unsightly power poles gone. It will have pedestrian and bike paths, landscaped medians and pull-out areas to remove buses from traffic.

The first of three phases, from Highway 50 over the American River bridge, was done a decade ago.

This portion of the widening, called Phase Two, runs from the top of the hill above the American River bridge up to Sunset Avenue. Work began in January 2016 and is now expected to be finished by June, later than initially thought.

There is no construction date set yet for the third phase, north of Sunset to Madison Avenue, because the county hasn't come up with the money. County officials say they hope to break ground in 2020. County officials have put in an application for state Senate Bill 1 funds from last year's controversial gas tax hike.

That makes this one of the longest-running road widening projects in county history. White, the project manager, said he gets complaints from people about how long the project is taking, but he's noticed that people are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

"People are going to like what they see and enjoy the finished product," White said.

We called Lane Montgomery to tell him June is the new finish date for this phase. He said he'll believe it when he sees it.

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